I’ve just been to the Van Gogh Alive Experience and was blown away by the huge number of paintings Vincent Van Gogh had painted. There are the main ones of course that I was familiar with but it wasn’t until I saw this exhibition that I truly realised quite how prolific he had been – over 2000 works, around half of which were paintings. It was fantastic to see them displayed in a way that showed the various themes, subjects and locations of his work, making them all seem familiar. I really like the simple, natural, everyday life nature of his subject matter. And seeing the paintings projected on huge screens allowed you to see the amazing detail of his brush strokes that you don’t appreciate in actual size.
The other aspect that that was also demonstrated through the exhibition was his sad struggle with mental illness throughout his life. I knew that had contributed to his early death but I hadn’t appreciated the cycles of depression that became clear through his paintings.
Although I really enjoyed the experience, I felt that there were a lot of ways it could have been improved (from my perspective anyway). With the big build up to ‘a multi-sensory experience’, it was extremely disappointing to enter into a standard art gallery setting with hundreds of people all jammed in trying to see the traditionally displayed art and descriptions around the walls, and unclear whether there was anything else. One feature of this part that was fantastic was the recreation of Van Gogh’s bedroom where you could pose for photos.
Eventually as the crowds thinned out (they had timed entries) we could see that there was door through to another area. This turned out to be where the multi-sensory experience happened and the contrast was huge (which I guess was the point). The area was surrounded with gigantic screens that projected giant images of Van Gogh’s paintings and quotes, with appropriately themed background music. They were ever-changing with close ups of images and related paintings, and even had some amazing animations that brought the scenes to life. Overall it was a fantastic experience.
However when we went through it was jam-packed with people and the display was already half-way through so we’d missed the first part of his story. There was no indication as to how it worked: whether you were supposed to walk around or find a seat (very limited) or find a spot to just stand. I found it extremely disconcerting as there were images projected everywhere and they changed so fast that I felt I was missing out on things. Eventually I did find a spot to stand where I could get a good view of multiple screens and just let the experience flow over me – and really enjoyed it but was annoyed that there were always people blocking my view (wherever I looked) and it was a long time to just stand. When the display ended we did manage to get a seat and watched the beginning in more comfort before the room started to fill again. I would have preferred to have been taken through a journey as we walked through the area or to have seats where you could watch the display from the beginning and in more comfort.
On the way out there was a ‘sunflower’ room that cleverly used mirrors to create a photo opportunity. And of course there was the obligatory shop. I was delighted to realise that the cover I had recently bought for my Kindle (just because I liked it) was in fact a Van Gogh painting of almond blossoms.